My Aunt Shirley

Today’s post is dedicated to my mom’s BFF, my Aunt Shirley, my inspiration, who taught me the value of keeping a mental repository of jokes, as well as the fine art of story telling. For her, it was sport. 

Me with my mischievous Aunt Shirley, who had just downloaded more jokes, and my Mom.

Me with my beloved, mischievous Aunt Shirley, who had just downloaded more raunchy jokes, and my Mom.

Early in my career, to supplement my meager income as a writer/producer for a motorsports TV series, I worked for a machine tool company. My eyes were opened to how witty and hilarious engineers can be, once they stepped away from their blueprints. For example, this engineering contractor from Ohio would walk past my desk and drop these bon mots that would double me over. As one sales rep from Indiana was earnestly boasting to me about his daughter, who was studying horticulture, Mr. Ohio walked past and with perfect timing, dryly dropped, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t lead a horticulture.” Mr. Indiana’s conversation ended abruptly. It’s the rare occasion that I ever get to repurpose that line, but it’s in my quiver belt. Mr. Ohio also would describe the weather in the most unusual of ways, such as, “It’s warmer than a syphilitic whore in a hot pepper patch!” That Mr. Ohio…he sure had a way with words.

So my machine tool experience was in the early ’90s, and it was wild times. Their big tradeshow of the year was IMTS in September, the largest, most boring show Chicago’s McCormick Place ever holds. The nightly after party was always at the EXCALIBUR Club in downtown Chicago. One of my employer’s most prominent resellers was this guy Bob from Wisconsin. However, Bob wasn’t prized so much for his top sales skills as he was for memorizing the largest catalog of off-color jokes of anyone in the machine tool industry. Anyone. But my boss was secretly betting on me. We had already worked together for several months, and he knew how funny I could be–thanks to my beloved Aunt Shirley–be it situational comedy, or joke telling. So my boss made sure I was physically placed at the bar that night to go toe-to-toe with Bob from Wisconsin.

I kicked it off by asking Bob if he spelled his name with one “O” or two, and his night of stardom just waned from there. True to form, Bob started rattling off his catalog of dirty jokes. For an entire hour, every single joke he told, I finished the punchline. Every. Single. Joke. It was the only time I saw my boss nearly wet himself. It was as if Aunt Shirley was ear prompting me, feeding me lines. These were all jokes she had told me before. The crowd surrounding us kept growing. Mouths dropped open in stunned awe. Bob was dumbfounded and frustrated. He kept trying to physically shake it off, like a dog with water in its ear. He finally gave up. But then he spent the rest of the evening trying to pursue and conquer me. He also failed in that endeavor. Several cocktails in, I was in a semi-vulnerable state, but my boss and his boss kept me safe.

It’s hard to imagine my mom and Aunt Shirley as BFFs. They were so opposite. Mom was the superintendent of a conservative Missouri-Synod Lutheran Sunday School for 30 years, while Aunt Shirley was a lapsed Catholic, an astrologer, and a medium. Mom was a Pisces, Aunt Shirley was an Aries. They were well suited.

I used to relish going to Aunt Shirley’s house in the city. She would make the world’s best lasagna–the smoked gouda cheese was her secret weapon–and she would often read my astrological chart. I think my mom’s curiosity overcame her Lutheran disdain for Aunt Shirley’s readings. In retrospect, Aunt Shirley was amazingly accurate. I am adopted, and she told me I had a sister who would be looking for me in my late thirties. This came to be true, and I reunited with my bio-family–the parents, two full-blood brothers and a sister–at age 39. She also told me my first husband would be unusual (he was), my second husband would be even more unusual (he is), and my third husband would be the best suited to me. While that has yet to unfold, it wouldn’t surprise me. She was right about a lot.

Aunt Shirley had a Near Death Experience in her 30s, and through that, she taught me not to fear death, and to trust in the promise of an after life. She often told me she wouldn’t live to see her 80th birthday. I had hoped against all hope that she was wrong about that one. She died three years ago, at 79, of ovarian cancer. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her. I am thankful she had children, whom I grew up with as my “first cousins,” so I still feel the imprint of her energy in some way. This Labor Day weekend Mom and I will spend with two of her daughters.

Before she passed, Aunt Shirley took an autobiography writing class. I was blessed to get a copy of her book, which shared very personal, very human moments in her life. Stories she would never have told me in person. It made me love her even more deeply, if that were even possible. Her autobiography taught me the value of living one’s life on your own terms, as she did. I’m still working on it, but I’m getting there. Evolving. And every once in a while, I’ll feel Aunt Shirley give me the occasional assist, confirming her presence on the Other Side.

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Lord, Love a Lefty! Reflections of a Southpaw After National Left-Handers Day

The cultural icon for left-handedness: Ned Flanders of  The Simpsons

God love him, the cultural icon for left-handedness: Ned Flanders of The Simpsons

As a journalist and a publicist at WriteBrain Media, I see the queries from fellow journalists all day long. The hot topic query yesterday was “the Challenge of Living Life as a Southpaw.” Some studies have shown that the 7-10% population of us left-handed people lose up to a decade of our lives due to the stress of being left-handed.

Frankly, it doesn’t compute. I’ve never had a problem cutting with scissors – I just hold them at a weird angle compared to 90% of people. Ain’t no thang. And maybe I take up more of the left margin in my spiral-bound notebooks (those reporter’s notebooks spiral-bound at the top are the bomb!). I don’t write in that hooked fashion, so I don’t experience the pencil carbon smudge on the side of my hand unless I’m doing charcoal sketches. But doesn’t everyone?

Pencil sketch from Cliff Nielsen's art jam. The Brewery, Los Angeles, April 2015.

Pencil sketch from Cliff Nielsen’s art jam. The Brewery, Los Angeles, April 2015.

 

I was raised in a household where my adoptive mother and brother were also lefties, so perhaps that made my life easier. When I finally met my bio-family, I was interested to learn my dad and one brother were left-handed as well (altho’ Catholic school redirected my bio-brother to the Catholic version of political correctness: being right-handed).

From the Middle Ages on down, lefties have always gotten the shaft, but consider this: Call me a conspiracy theory nut, but you know that part in the Bible about Christ being on the right hand of God?

I think it was a typo.

Some right-handed translator got the Aramaic word for “right” mixed up with “left.” This one small typo was perpetuated throughout history, all of the way down to Gutenburg’s Press. This resulted in centuries of left-handed fuckery. Bloodied knuckles being rapped with rulers by Catholic school nuns. Southpaws being tortured and imprisoned for wiping butts with our right hands. It was discrimination of Biblical proportions, literally.

I’d like to think that today, we’re better than this. That there’s no need for social justice, a movement, and a new Twitter hashtag: #Left-HandedLivesMatter. But to know that for certain, does anyone have kids in Catholic school?

The Racquetball Chronicles, Episode 4: Sprained Boobs

Don’t shoot me if it’s been more than four. I think we’ve established that I’m terrible with numbers. For the record, the final scores tonight in Marovich’s favor (of course) were 21-1, 21-1, and 15-8. As you can tell, I was just warming up by Game #3. I’m confident I would have handed her ass to her if we’d rented the court for two hours instead of one.

Marovich & Me: We've been playing this game for 30 years and we still haven't bothered to learn the rules!

1980s-style Marovich & Me: We’ve been playing this game for 30 years and we still haven’t bothered to learn the rules!

So Marovich and I still haven’t read the 70-page PDF document explaining the Official Rules of Racquetball. I tried reading it, but my ADD got in the way, and Marovich is just way too busy with work. I’m lucky she squeezes me in. We were hoping tonight that one of you reading this blog might already know the rules of racquetball. If so, here are our questions for you:

#1. If you hit your opponent with the ball and you’re not the one serving, is it an automatic point to the server, or an automatic do-over?

#2. In the server box, there is a smaller side box to the left, and one to the right. In cut-throat, does one of the three players have to be in that box during the serve?

#3. If the ball hits our bottled waters sitting in the corner of the court, is that an automatic do-over?

#4. If the player receiving the serve chooses to play on a Long (Duck Dong) Serve or a (Martin) Short Serve, does that count? Or do they have to call it long or short?

#5. What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow? (Just makin’ sure you’re still with me.)

Our latest on-court shenanigans resulted in the addition of the “The Belch Hindrance” clause to our already customized version of the Racquetball Rules. Marovich knows if she belches while I’m serving, I’m the 12-year-old who just busts out laughing and blows my serve. Every time. You see, we have a girlfriend who has earned our deep respect for really setting the bar high on the tone, volume, and resonance of her belches. For our own amusement, we used to dare she-who-shall-remain-nameless to drink down an entire can of Diet Coke, call her mom on the phone, and then emit this depths-of-hell belch that literally went on for 10 seconds straight, as her appalled and very proper Catholic mom was screaming at her to stop in the names of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It was EPIC. Sadly, Marovich has finally found the one thing in life she can’t do better than someone else. And every time Marovich attempts her totally fey belches on court, she knows my brain goes right back to our friend belching in her mom’s ear, and that makes me laugh even harder. When you’ve been friends since 7th grade, you know each other’s Achilles’ Heels. Hence the necessity for the new clause.

The estrogen-centric reading this will agree, there are some days of the month when “the girls” are more tender than others. I forewarned Marovich my girls were uber-sensitive and requested could she please try not to hit me in the chest with the ball, just this once? The next thing I knew, I somehow managed to hit my own self in the chest with the racquetball and it was so ridiculous, we had to stop playing so Marovich could regain her composure. In the next play, Marovich put both hands out in front of her–palms facing me–as she tried to reach one of those maddening shots that hugs the wall without crashing into it at full speed. My sore, swollen girls stood right in her pathway. Another hindrance. It was like that classic Seinfeld scene where Elaine accidentally falls in the women’s locker room and grabs Jerry’s girlfriend’s breasts to break her fall. With aplomb, I delivered Teri Hatcher’s famous line to Marovich: “They’re real, and they’re spectacular,” as we lost another five minutes on the clock to me icing down my sprained boobs.

After racquetball, Marovich imparted that Amy Schumer shares our same, sick sense of humor, as evidenced by her hilarious new Comedy Central music parody, “Milk, Milk, Lemonade,” which spoofs the big booty jams. It’s #NSFW, so don’t watch this one around the kids. I warn you, it’s a total ear worm and you will hate me in the morning: http://bitly.com/MilkMilkLemonade 

One summer night we were all drinking at the Diet Coke Belcher’s house, drawing Dirty Sanchez mustaches on each other with Hershey’s chocolate for selfies, debating the origin of Eggs Danny Thomas-style, when I got the impulse to call GoDaddy.com and purchase the MilkMilkLemonadeAroundtheCorner.com URL (I may even still own it, I’m not sure…). I was incensed to learn that someone else already owned my first choice, the MilkMilkLemonade.com URL. For all I know, it could have been Amy Schumer. And if it was Amy, then that’s okay.